Friday, November 19, 2010
Classic Basil Pesto
I thought it was too late for pesto. I cut my basil down about 3 weeks ago and then never got to posting this in the rush of pumpkins, breakfast cookies, and apples. (Why, I will never know because look how beautiful the basil is.) But then this morning, I had a look at my herb garden. There under a layer of fall leaves were the little stubs of basil plants with a few little leaves of basil still going strong. Yes, it's by the house and as I said, there's a nice protective layer of fall leaves covering the little guys, but the point is, it's still possible. If you're in southern Indiana or south, go outside, cut down your basil, and make some pesto. You can freeze it. You can give it as gifts. You can eat it all for dinner tonight and wonder at the summery-ness of your fall kitchen. And if you don't happen to be down here close to the mason dixon line, well then, you could always cheat and go to your local Asian foods store. They tend to have cheap, fresh herbs year round, though I must warn you, they are certainly not local.
But before we talk about how to make pesto, let's talk about how we can use pesto. Maybe you're an old pro at this, but if you, like me, grew up in an herbs-are-dry-things-from-plastic-containers-at-the-store family, you may not have a clue. I'd never had or, (while I'm making food blogger confessions) heard of, pesto till about 4 years ago. I was an easy convert--it's pretty, it smells good, and I'd discovered I loved fresh basil early on in my marriage.
So, how to use pesto:
1. Most classically, you add it to pasta--usually something short and tubular, like penne, but I'm not into making rules about these things.
2. You can also put it on sandwiches. I especially love it paired with mayo and chicken.
3. You can drop a bit into your marinara sauces to give an extra basil kick. Or you can add it to plain tomato sauce (about a buck for a big can at WalMart) and make your own marinara sauce easily and cheaply.
4. You can use it to drizzle over anything tomato-based: tomato soup, tomato salad, tomato sandwiches, tomatoes period.
5. You can use it in place of traditional tomato-based pizza sauce on pizzas. Top your pesto pizza with some sauteed vegetables such as onion, zucchini, and olives, and add a little cheese. It's very good.
And if you plan to use your pesto, you know, not this week, we should also talk about how to preserve pesto. I suppose you could can and pressure cook it, but I haven't gotten to the owner-of-pressure-cooker point in my food life (and I'm not sure I want to), so I freeze it.
If I'm giving it away, I freeze it in small pretty-ish jars. (Or baby food jars. You know, whichever I have on hand.) And the stuff for me, I freeze it in ice cube trays. Then I take the cubes out and double bag them, and stick them back in the freezer. That way any time I want a bit for a marinara sauce or a sandwich or to drizzle over soup, I just grab a cube. (If you also make homemade baby food in this way, do not grab a cube for baby, thinking it's some of those pureed peas you made because you are a good mother. Baby will not appreciate pesto as much as you do, even if it is mixed in with rice cereal.)
Okay, now you know how to preserve it and use it. Let's say you don't want to. Maybe you like fresh basil, but don't want to make pesto, either because you don't like pesto or because you don't have the ingredients or because those darn pine nuts cost too much. Process only the basil and olive oil, then freeze it in cubes. Voila! You'll have fresh basil all winter long.
Classic Basil Pesto
A note on pine nuts: Pine nuts are not cheap, my friends. If you're going to use them, buy a larger bag and freeze what you don't use in your pesto. Then you can use it for next year's pesto too. Or for salads or chicken dishes or whatever. You can also substitute cheaper nuts like almonds or walnuts in place of the pine nuts. You can also (gasp) skip the pine nuts all together. If you do, I will keep it between the two of us.
2 C fresh basil leaves
1/4 C pine nuts, toasted or not
4 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4-1/3 C olive oil.
Wash your basil and take the leaves off the stems.
If you wish to roast the pine nuts, roast them in a pan at around 400 with a bit of the olive oil till fragrant (about 10 minutes--warning--I'm guessing here; though I've roasted nuts before, I did not roast my pine nuts. I like them un-roasted).
Throw everything in a food processor or blender and run it till it's saucy.
Add to ice cube trays or preserve it however you like. Or eat it for dinner, you lucky person, you.